It was gut check time, and the Troy Trojans delivered…a heart-stopping first round win over Anderson to open the Division II playoffs.
Troy – His 40th birthday wasn’t for another 90 minutes or so. But Troy football coach Matt Burgbacher couldn’t help but sneak a peek at his first present.
Troy was clinging to a 41-35 lead against visiting Cincinnati Anderson. On a fourth-down play, Anderson took the ball to the Troy 4-yard line with 20 seconds remaining. And Burgbacher quietly walked onto the field to see the spot before officials brought out the chains to measure.
“Sometimes I just like to see things for myself. I wanted to take a little peek,” Burgbacher said, grinning. “When I saw it was short … a big sigh of relief.”
This present didn’t come with a bow. But it was wrapped up by the Trojans’ defense. And it came up with a pair of fourth-down stops in the final 26 seconds to preserve the Trojans 41-35 win in front of standing-room-only crowd, at least on Troy’s side of the stands.
In a game that featured 1,030 yards, 76 points and a slew of big plays, this Division II, Region 8 quarterfinal playoff game was decided by three yards. That’s how close Anderson came to converting that first down.
Troy led 41-35 when Anderson took over on their own 2-yard line after an interception. The Knights, who average a little more than 600 yards per game, drove to the Trojans’ 12-yard line with a minute left. After a run for minus-2 yards and two incomplete passes, Anderson faced fourth-and-12 on the Troy 14. Anderson quarterback Jay Volpenhein lofted a pass toward the back corner of the end zone and just out of reach of a receiver setting off a Troy celebration … until they saw the yellow flag for pass interference.
Troy’s defense – which had been on the field for nearly 120 plays chasing Anderson’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense – faced one last stand. Volpenhein took the snap and sprinted up the middle and right into the arms of junior outside linebacker John Wehrkamp.
“The last play of the game the quarterback was trying to come up the middle,” Wehrkamp said, “so I was stopping it. I’m not letting him get there.”
“We felt everything was on the line. If we didn’t do our job it was our fault,” said inside linebacker Shane Shoop, who had two of Troy’s four interceptions. “We did the job and got the win.”
Troy took over with 20 seconds left and with one snap ran out the clock on the Trojans’ first playoff victory since 2000, when Troy beat Miamisburg. Ironically, that’s who top-seeded Troy plays 7:30 p.m. Friday in the D-II regional semifinals at a site to be announced Sunday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. No. 4. Miamisburg beat No. 5. Kings 28-24 on Friday.
“We’re proud of the guys. For us to get a goal-line stand by the defense. There’s not too many people who thought Troy would be 10-1,” Burgbacher said. “We’re very proud of it. These guys have earned it.”
Just as Troy’s entire season has been, next Friday could be another chance at redemption. Troy and Miamisburg played in Week 5, a 21-17 Trojans’ loss that came in the final eight seconds.
Troy avoided that outcome against an Anderson team that refused to go away. Troy jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first 3 minutes, 30 seconds on Josh Browder’s 72-yard touchdown run and Hayden Kotwica’s 8-yarder. It ballooned to 41-14 early in the third quarter on Browder’s 27-yard run, his fifth touchdown of the game.
But Troy’s offense bogged down from there with three straight 3-and-out punts. The Trojans also misplayed an on-sides kick that didn’t go the required 10-yards, but was fumbled away by a Troy player attempting to fall on the kick. Troy’s final two drives also ended in turnovers with a lost fumble on their own 30 and an interception on Anderson’s 2-yard line.
Anderson scored the final three touchdowns, including two fourth-quarter scores with 8:49 and 5:24 left in the game.
“I’ve never seen a team line up that quickly in my life,” Wehrkamp said. “Play after play they just kept coming.”
And so did a Troy defense that was tired and exhausted. But not defeated.
Anderson’s Volpenhein (unofficially) completed 46-of-76 passes for 430 yards and five touchdowns. He entered the game with 3,137 yards and 38 touchdowns.
“Their offense is great. Give props to their quarterback. He was throwing awesome passes,” Wehrkamp said.
“This is a huge win. Huge. I was so impressed with the entire defense. My buddy Will Brumfield was making plays. The whole defensive line was making plays. Give props to the secondary for handling those receivers all night. We know they’re fast.”
Troy intercepted Anderson four times. Shoop had two and Jake Anderson and Wehrkamp each had one. Kobe Feltner broke up a fourth-down pass into Troy territory late in the third quarter and Wehrkamp batted down a fourth-down pass on the Troy 31 midway through the fourth in a game with too many big plays to mention.
But it was that final fourth-down stop that was the biggest.
“I was like, no way. Let’s just get this over with,” Wehrkamp said of having to stop Anderson twice. “We’re tired.”
Browder also went onto the field during a timeout to help inspire his defensive teammates.
“I had to get in their face and scream at them. I was making sure they knew we had their backs,” said Browder. “We knew the game was in their hands and they’d come through for us.”
Burgbacher also had a message for his defense: “I told them it’s gut-check time. Your season comes down to one play. They made the stop. That’s why we put them through heck to prepare them for this season. We’re playing in November and that’s a good feeling.”
Browder rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He also caught three passes – all for touchdowns of 57, 30 and 27 yards.
“It was a crazy game. … I just saw open field and had to take off for a touchdown,” Browder said. “My linemen did a great job. They were blocking perfect.”
Troy’s remarkable turnaround continues into Week 12. The Trojans, 2-8 last season and 10-30 the four previous seasons, kept alive their first playoff appearance since 2011.
“Me personally, I like to prove doubters wrong,” Burgbacher said. “There were people that say 6-4 would be a great season for Troy. Our kids didn’t settle for that. Our kids wanted to go out champions, especially our seniors. We’ve still got people that doubt us. But that’s fine because it’s going to keep our fire going. We’re still playing in Week 12.”